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New Release Review - The Raid 2

Sequel to the cult 2011 Indonesian action fest.

Directed by: Gareth Evans
Starring: Iko Uwais, Julie Estelle, Yayan Ruhian, Arifin Putra




Following the events of the first movie, young cop Rama (Uwais) is recruited by his superiors to go undercover and root out the corrupt cops who are profiteering from the exploits of Jakarta's various criminal gangs. With his family placed in protective custody, Rama is sent to prison for a two year stretch, during which he makes several enemies but crucially befriends Uco (Putra), the son of a Yakuza boss. At the end of Rama's sentence, he is recruited by the Yakuza as a debt collector, positioning himself in the perfect place to collect the evidence he needs to take down the mob.
In last year's outstanding documentary The Act of Killing we witnessed cold-blooded Indonesian killers act out their obsession with Western cinema. The Raid movies present this idea in reverse, with a Western film-maker (Welshman Gareth Evans) indulging his love of Asian action cinema. The glimpses we saw of the movies made by the stars of TAOK told us they clearly had no idea how to construct a film but they did understand one thing Evans doesn't seem to: the importance of humor. I couldn't quite put my finger on what the biggest problem with The Raid 2 was until my screening's audience exploded in laughter at a split second sight gag that occurs immediately prior to the film's climactic set-piece. Up until that point the film had been taking itself far too seriously.
The film's 2011 predecessor suffered from poor writing and a lack of characterization. It was practically impossible to become emotionally invested in the movie but thankfully Evans seemed aware of his limitations as a writer and never gave us a chance to take a breather from the relentless action. This meant it was only after leaving the cinema were you given the chance to ponder the film's narrative issues. With The Raid 2, however, we're afforded far too many opportunities to sit back and think about why this story isn't working.
This is a far more ambitious and serious movie than the previous installment, with Evans aiming for the sort of expansive crime saga that has become customary in the cinema of Japan and Korea. Ambition is always to be applauded but, as a writer, Evans has simply bitten off far more than he can chew. The writing is frankly awful, with a plot that feels like the Infernal Affairs trilogy rewritten by a movie obsessed 14-year-old and with dialogue to match. Most of the cast have clearly been recruited for their physical prowess rather than their acting chops and this is all too clear in the many dialogue scenes, most of which consists of hackneyed exposition.
For roughly two thirds of The Raid 2 you're counting down the minutes to the next brawl or car chase but thankfully your patience is rewarded in spades. Evans gives us five or six set-pieces that make a mockery of the blandness of Hollywood action movies, most of which are now helmed by sitcom directors with no visual imagination and no idea how to use camera movement and editing to create the wild delirium of Evans' work. A third act car chase contains the greatest "How the hell did they do that?" moment since Juan José Campanella's physics defying exploits in the Argentine soccer stadium of The Secret in Their Eyes, with the camera seemingly passed from car to car, in and out windows without the aid of CG. The fight scenes confirm Evans' status as the Minnelli of mayhem, his camera and editing fluidly combining with the outrageous physical feats of his cast. If Michael Jackson were still alive, I suspect he'd be beating down the Welshman's door to shoot a music video.
Watching his movies, it's clear Evans is, like myself, a VHS kid. I imagine his childhood in eighties Wales was similar to my own in Ireland, a series of rained out school holidays rescued by trips to the local video store. Like Evans, I loved Asian martial arts movies but even as a kid I was aware of how daft they were and the films I enjoyed the most were those that made me laugh, be it intentionally in the case of Jackie Chan's outrageously choreographed Buster Keaton inspired routines or unintentionally, as with Godfrey Ho's bargain basement trash fests.
The Raid 2 is a technical marvel and certainly intense, but intensity without humor leads to drabness; just ask Hitchcock the value of tension-relieving comedy, or Spielberg, whose outwardly morose Schindler's List contains some downright hilarious moments of black comedy. Evans' set-pieces leave you wanting more, but his dull crime saga plot leaves you pining for an appearance by midget Filipino star Weng Weng, a Samurai with his infant son in tow, or Richard Harrison clad in his iconic camouflage Ninja suit
I suspect we'll receive a third installment but it's time for Evans to find himself a writer and move on to Hollywood. We can only imagine the havoc he could cause with the world's biggest train set.
7/10


Eric Hillis

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